London to lack Xmas seat capacity

Seat capacity across London’s airports during December is expected to decrease, compared with an increase at key European competitors, according to the latest statistics from aviation data business OAG.

The OAG FACTS report detailing frequency and capacity trend statistics for December 2012 examines seat capacity for London and key competing hubs in Europe, versus the figures for December 2011. The analysis compares London, which includes Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City, with Paris (Charles de Gaulle and Orly), Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

London mirrors the overall UK trend with a decrease of 2% expected in seat capacity. There will be 12.6 million seats across the London airport system (excluding London City).
John Grant, executive vice president, OAG says: “London’s overall capacity decrease in December includes a continued decline at Stansted but modest increases at Heathrow and Gatwick. Heathrow in particular is benefitting from airlines’ introduction of larger aircraft types plus additional volumes from new carriers. This unbalanced picture across London’s airport system, and the well documented capacity constraints at Heathrow, make the Davies Commission’s review of UK airport capacity very timely.”
London is the largest airport system in Europe by seat capacity, with 172 million to/from seats in 2012. It has 50% more seat capacity than the next largest European airport system, which is Paris. Although seat capacity has been growing in London since 2009, it has not yet recovered to 2007 levels where it peaked at 178 million.  Heathrow accounts for the biggest share of London’s seat capacity, with 55% of all seat capacity and although static in 2012, has recovered from the fall in capacity during the financial crisis.
Although capacity at Heathrow fell by 3% in 2009 it was the most resilient of the London airports, unlike Stansted which has yet to return to growth. In 2012, Heathrow reached seat capacity of 94.5 million to/from seats retaining its position as the third largest airport in the world.  Gatwick accounts for nearly a quarter of all London seat capacity and has reached its highest capacity to date in 2012 with 39.7 million seats.
Paris will see an increase of 2% in seat capacity, largely driven by increased competition in the domestic market. Amsterdam will see stronger growth of 4%. Increases to capacity across KLM’s European network underpin this growth, plus the airline’s resumption of a thrice-weekly service earlier this year to Harare after a 13 year hiatus.  Frankfurt, in contrast, will see seat capacity fall by 9%, due primarily to Lufthansa reducing both international and domestic capacity.
“Of the major European hubs, Frankfurt will see the greatest capacity drop in December, largely reflecting the impact of Lufthansa’s restructuring programme. Frankfurt may also see continued capacity reductions in 2013, should Lufthansa move more operations to the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport,” said Grant.
An analysis of scheduled seat capacity over the last 10 years for London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt shows a consistent pattern of steady growth until the European economic crisis of 2008/9. Amsterdam has seen the highest average annual growth rate, with a 2.2% increase each year in seat capacity, whilst Frankfurt has been slowest at 1.6%.  This is less than half the typical European to/from capacity annual growth rate of 5.6%, reflecting the maturity of these markets and the impact of the recession.
Seat capacity dropped sharply in 2009 across Europe but the effects were worse at airports in these four cities.  Frankfurt was the most resilient with only a 3% fall in capacity but it fell again in 2012 by 0.5%.  Neither London nor Paris has seen significant capacity growth in 2012 after recovering in 2010-11. Capacity at Amsterdam was hit hardest by the European economic crisis but has recovered the fastest with growth reaching 5% in 2011 before slowing to 1.3% in 2012, perhaps aided by the removal in part of their environmental taxes on aviation.
Looking back over the last 10 years, capacity shows that from 2008 onwards, these four countries have seen international capacity growth below the European annual average of 5.6%.  Capacity in the UK in particular in the last five years has been stagnant, with an annual average decline of 0.2% each year since 2008.
An executive summary of the OAG FACTS December report is available here.